Career & Professional Development breaks down answers to some of the most common questions we get from alumni at all stages of their career journey.

Q: I’m feeling stuck in my career and hoping to find a mentor who can guide me in reaching my career goals and aspirations. How do I find a mentor with senior-level experience?

A: HBS Career & Professional Development (CPD) Coach Sarah Bua suggests looking for someone who has that "special sauce," a kind of seemingly intangible knack for success and learn from them. Find out about their journey – not only the successes, but more importantly the failures. What missteps did they make that you could avoid? It is important when signaling you are ready to take on new challenges not to be too risk averse, but if you can foresee the pitfalls that snagged others on their journey it will benefit you.

When looking for a mentor, do not assume that person has to be older than you. 

"It is dangerous to assume capability and insights are always calibrated to age," Bua said. "You may find a fabulous mentor - or someone who can play certain of the roles of a mentor - who is closer in age to you than you might assume brings value."

Start by looking to people who already know you, who have worked with you on a project or been in a meeting with you. These people have an idea of what you are capable of doing. If there is no one in your current organization that fits the bill, Bua says to cultivate that relationship.

"Volunteer for cross-functional projects, raise your hand to sit on company task forces, etc.," she said  "Offer your help to others, and be helpful in return. Consider serving as a mentor yourself – model what you are looking for, and offer a signal of your future growth interests and aspirations."

Externally, use tools like LinkedIn or your local HBS Club to find connections you may have with people in your industry who may serve in an advisory role in your journey. Industry groups may also have contact information for retired executives interested in mentoring people. 

HBS Career Coach Warren Radtke cautions you may not be looking for a mentor – one who gives career advice - but a sponsor, someone who discovers you and acts almost like a talent agent. 

"Mentors can be sought out because they have a particular skill or experience that you can learn," he said. "You can have a series of mentors, or a group of mentors that can serve you as a 'Career Board of Directors.' You can meet with them as a group, or with mentors individually, say once a month, to give you ideas and feedback."

Sponsors, on the other hand, "work with you and are focused on your advancement. In return for sponsorship you need to deliver high performance which enhances the sponsor's reputation."

Once you've established whether you're looking for a sponsor or a mentor, you'll need to adjust your networking skills to help you find that person. Your career is a journey, and accepting help along the way can help enrich that path.